We consider ourselves privileged to have links to special friends and colleagues in Kenya. We are very proud of Elephants Alive’s Ronny Makakule who was awarded a trip to Kenya by Save the Elephants to meet David Daballen, a guru in the field of individual elephant identification.
This was followed by the attendance of a very informative STE strategic meeting by our chairperson and director (Marlene McCay and Dr. Michelle Henley). Here we learnt about the ins and outs of how STE and the Elephant Crisis Fund effectively operate to make a difference to the conservation of elephants across Africa.
Michelle and the Elephants Alive Tracking Project Manager (Anka Bedetti de Kock) then went on to visit Dr. Jake Wall, the as newly appointed Director of Research and Conservation for MEP. We got to meet the CEO of MEP, Marc Goss and other staff who will collectively place MEP on the map in terms of elephant conservation. Jake, in his usual generous and knowledgeable way freely shared his advanced coding skills with Anka, Benjamin Loloju and Nelson Mwangi, the latter two people from STE and collectively known as the formidable ‘Benson’ team.
We are very appreciative for the invitation and the opportunity to apply these skills in upcoming reports to reserve managers and funders. Other than the shared buzz of knowledge, it was an unforgettable experience to enjoy sundowners on the banks of the famous Mara River, just before leaving.
As if the shades of the expansive African sky and the good company of Jake and his family were not enough already, a lioness suddenly appeared on the opposite bank to flush a warthog from its hollow and then disappeared in hot pursuit of her quarry. Another magical moment in Africa where you know that the memory will be etched in your mind but it all happened so quickly that you left wondering if it really happened or were you just daydreaming ….. fortunately, this time there were enough witnesses left with huge smiles on their faces.
The saying of Mehmet Murat Ildan rings clear: “Enlarge your windows till you get a window where you can see the whole universe with one look!”. Understanding how other conservation projects such as Save the Elephants (STE) and the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) deal with Human-Elephant-Conflict, the tracking and individual identification of elephants is not only inspirational but also very informative to our own long-term efforts.
Elephants Alive successfully collared six elephants in Mozambique’s Maputo Special Reserve (MSR). MSR is home to over 500 elephants, however, little is known about their movement patterns.
This is an incredibly scenic reserve, situated 100 km southeast of the capital, preserving both the sand forest and marine environment within its midst. As MSR forms a part of Peace Park’s Usuthu-Tembe-Futi Transfrontier Conservation Area, it is vital management to understand elephant movements before joining up conservation areas across the Mozambican and South African international borders.
Joining hands in Mozambique and in a huge collaborative effort between Elephants Alive, Saving the Survivors, Young Presidents Organisation, Safari Giants, Wildlifevets SA, Savannah Tracking and the Peace Parks Foundation, six elephants were collared across MSR in an attempt to understand elephant movement patterns in various sections of the reserve. We are delighted with how smooth the collaring operations were carried out, in what at times were very difficult terrain. We are excited to see the results of this operation by allowing the elephants to tell us their stories through their movements.
We have many individuals and organisations to thank for making this happen. From Mozambique we would like to thank: Dr. Carlos Lopes Perreira, Dr. Joao Almeida, Miquel Goncalves, Antonio Alverca and Pedro Alverca. Elephants Alive: Dr. Michelle Henley, Anka Bedetti, Robin Cook, Tammy Eggeling Saving the Survivors: Dr. Johan Marias and Dr. Joao Almeida Safari Giants: Dex Kotze and Annie Snowden Wildlifevets: Dr. Ben Muller Savannah Tracking: Dr. Henrik Rasmussen and Ivy Mutiso Peace Parks Foundation: Brian Neubert Pilot: James Scheun Marine Resource: Marcel Kroese
Our Elephants, Bees, Trees & People Project continually grows from strength to strength. We have harvested three batches of “elephant-friendly honey” already this year – bottling nearly 65 litres, all of which is now sold out!
Elephant-friendly honey The honey has proved hugely popular with customers in both Hoedspruit and Johannesburg, selling out every time at the local Farmers Market, with a waiting list from local lodges. Every harvest produces a different tasting honey, depending on what flowers the bees are feeding on at that time. We are also producing Elephants Alive lip balm made from beeswax. Our final harvest took place mid-March, with the bees now being given a break with the approaching winter, so they can feed on their remaining honey supplies. At our study site on Jejane, we are also pleased that an additional nine wild swarms have reoccupied hives which we cleaned in December 2018 and we will be looking after these bees over the upcoming dry season.
Elephants Alive’s Bee Project on TV Our Bees & trees programme has recently featured on both South Africa’s 50:50 show and Germany’s public broadcaster, DWS. Both programmes show our work using honeybees as a deterrent method for African elephant impacts on iconic marula trees. View here.
Using Bee Hives to Protect Trees – update At the end of last year, we re-assessed all of the trees in our study site on Jejane Private Nature Reserve (JPNR) – where we are recording elephant impact on 150 marula trees. Of these trees, 50 have beehives, 50 are wire-netted, and 50 are left as controls. 80% of the control trees have been impacted in the study’s 3-year duration, versus 52% of the wire-netted trees. We are pleased that only 8% of the beehive trees have received any form of elephant impact since November 2015. We are very excited to see how the beehives are continuing to deter elephants from selected marula trees, and look forward to seeing how this research progresses over the next year.
Beekeeping Manual With so many enquiries and requests, we have produced a Bee Keeping Manual, free to download. If you are interested in finding out more about using bees to protect key, iconic trees see link.
Next steps – community bee gardens. The next development in our beekeeping and honey production programme is with four key local communities, as identified in consultation with the Kruger2Canyon Biosphere. This project will help provide alternative livelihoods, increase food security and develop enduring economic improvement for the impoverished rural communities, which form part of the Greater Kruger Area. Fostering positive relationships with communities close to Protected Areas are key to calling for tolerance relating to potential human-elephant conflict and the protection of natural resources.
Elephants Alive’s research has successfully demonstrated that elephants avoid trees that have a bee hive hung in them. But what is it about the bees that is causing the elephants to steer clear? Our studies continue with the next phase of bee research……
Over the past decade, extensive research has been carried out on a worldwide scale to investigate the usage of honeybees as a mitigation method for human-elephant conflict. Whilst elephants may be thick-skinned and the largest land-dwelling mammals, sensitive areas around their eyes and ears leave them vulnerable to the painful stings of the relatively tiny honeybees. As bizarre as this may sound, it is backed by thorough scientific studies focussing on various aspects of the elephant-honeybee relationship!
Pioneering research by Dr. Lucy King (Save the Elephants – Elephants and Bees Project) has shown that elephants display signs of uncertainty and fear when confronted with the sound of swarming honeybees, often moving away from these sounds at quite some pace. Furthermore, King and her colleagues have successfully used beehive fence-lines (beehives connected to one other by wires) around crop fields as a method of preventing elephants from crop raiding. Beehive fence-lines are now being used in various African and Asian countries where human-elephant conflict is of great concern. More recently in South Africa, research by Elephants Alive has found that beehives can be used as a successful mitigation method for protecting large trees from elephant impact in the Greater Kruger National Park.
Whilst studies have focused on elephant interactions with honeybee sounds and actual beehives, only suggestions and hypotheses have been made about the impact that the honeybee alarm pheromone may have on elephants. And it is worth investigating because of the elephants’ acute sense of smell! The honeybee alarm pheromone is comprised of a number compounds, and is produced by honeybees when threatened. Production of this pheromone by honeybee guards increases the aggression levels of the rest of the colony, leading to the honeybee attack response.
Whilst the manipulation of this pheromone by scientists can evoke attack responses from honeybees, it is unknown whether the pheromone can be used to deter elephants. Elephants Alive researchers have partnered with Professor Mark Wright (University of Hawaii at Manoa) and Transfrontier Africa to investigate the honeybee alarm pheromone’s potential in South Africa on both wild and semi-captive elephants. In Balule Private Nature Reserve, the researchers investigated whether socks containing the alarm pheromone SPLAT (Specialized Pheromone and Lure Application Technology) mixture could effectively deter elephants around waterholes. Elephant reactions to these socks were compared with reactions to control (unscented) socks. The results have been very positive and will soon be available in a scientifically published research article. The researchers, in collaboration with Human-Wildlife Solutions, will now turn their attention to semi-captive elephants at Camp Jabulani (Kapama Private Game Reserve) for in-depth investigations into elephants’ behavioural responses to the pheromone, as well as honeybee sounds, smells, and presence. The results from this experiment will help researchers use various aspects of honeybee biology in the search for peaceful solutions to human-elephant conflict. The research team are looking forward to commencing with the trials and thank Adine Roode and her staff at Camp Jabulani for their willingness to assist with this ground-breaking research.